|Edward Burne-Jones, The Nativity, about 1887|
"100 Great British Drawings" might sound like a long slog. It's not, for the extraordinary variety and rarity of the offerings. The Huntington has 12,000 British drawings, about six times as many as the combined European drawing holdings of the Getty, LACMA, and Norton Simon. The vast majority have never been on public view. This is a colorful drawing show. The Britons were early adopters of watercolor. There are a number of painting-sized pictures on paper, breaking up the monochrome.
|Georg Dionysius Ehret, Nectarines, mid-18th century|
Naturally the Huntington's 100 includes major sheets by Hogarth, Gainsborough, Rowlandson, Constable, Turner, Girtin, Cotman, Blake, and Ruskin; smatterings of Pre-Raphaelites, Orientalists, illustrators, and modernists. But it's also got a strong bench. Consider a summery Nectarines by German-born naturalist George Ehret, a Renaissance revival metalpoint drawing (made in 1899) by Joseph Edward Southall, and a wallpaper design of Seaweed by John Henry Dearle.
|Joseph Edward Southall, Head of a Girl, 1899|
|John Henry Dearle, Seaweed (wallpaper design), about 1901|
Henry Huntington acquired drawings along with the British libraries he purchased en bloc. This notably included watercolors and mixed-media works by William Blake. But the Huntington's status as a major, well-rounded repository of British drawings dates from after its founders' time. In 1959 Huntington curator Robert R. Wark bought most of the drawing collection of British actor Gilbert Davis. This added 1674 sheets by 365 artists (38 by John Constable alone).
Two years later the collection of Illustrated London News editor Sir Bruce Ingram came on the market. Wark was allowed to vet the collection before auction and pre-empt the works he wanted. This added about 350 more sheets, chosen to complement the Davis holdings.
In 2000 the Huntington acquired the Arts and Crafts Movement collection assembled by California architect Sanford Berger and wife Helen. Part of the wide-ranging collection was about 2000 drawings prepatory to works in other media, by William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and associates.
The Huntington has also been making numerous strategic purchases of exceptional drawings, and these feature significantly in this selection. "100 Great British Drawings" is in the Boone Gallery through Sep. 5, 2022.
|Francis Barlow, Emblematic Portrait of Oliver Cromwell, 1658|
|Simeon Solomon, A Young Musician in the Temple, a.k.a. Hosannah!, 1860|
Here gay Pre-Raphaelite Simeon Solomon leans into his Jewish heritage. Based on archeological sources of the time, the composition became a print and a painting.
|Evelyn De Morgan, Study of a Right Arm Against a Blue Tunic (detail), about 1903|
The Huntington's representation of woman artists is still a work in progress. Sarah Charlesworth might have admired the perfect incompletion of this pastel by Evelyn De Morgan.
|Paul Nash, Study for "Dead Spring", about 1929|
Edwin Landseer, whose sentimental paintings of animals delighted Queen Victoria, gets little critical respect today. He was 11 years old when he did this watercolor of dogs.
|Edwin Landseer, Two Dogs Resting, 1811|
Whoa, innate. It's innate:
I was taken especially by the massive Edward Burne-Jones "Nativity," c. 1887. It reminds me of the nascent decades of photography.
"Nativity" is a recent  acquisition. One of the media used to make it is "bodycolor," which I'd never heard of before.
Per the Worcester Museum of Art: Watercolor is made from powdered pigments bound together with gum arabic and thinned with water. Bodycolor is comparatively more opaque; to add substance to the medium and increase its opacity, artists add a gelatin-like isinglass from fish or size [?] from animals.
Any road, Burne-Jones designed the work as a rendering for a stained glass window. Sweet. Masterly.
A big hole in my art historical education is due to my never having seen the Huntington collection. And when I think of the apex of British art, I don't conjure Robert Peake the Elder; or Constable; or Banksy...I go with Gainsborough for his "Blue Boy."
I do sate my Brit art cravings with visits to the Yale Center for British Art, a glorious mother lode for anyone wishing to see great national art outside Britain.